PORLAMAR, VENEZUELA -- At a recent campaign stop, Henrique Capriles was tossing his trademark, tri-color caps, blowing kisses and waving to the throngs of supporters clamoring around his caravan.
Second chances are hard to come by, and with an 11-point defeat in last October’s presidential elections, Capriles is looking urgently for last-minute support.
With the snap April 14 vote looming, Capriles, the governor of Miranda state, is barnstorming the nation hoping to pull up sagging poll numbers as he faces interim President Nicolás Maduro.
“Capriles is doing what he has to do,” said Luis Vicente León, president of the polling firm Datanalisis, referring to the whistle-stop tour. “He’s swimming against the current.”
Capriles, 40, is banking on the tour to rally enthusiasm and minimize voter abstention in his second try at the presidency. On Sunday, he’s hoping to swamp the streets of the capital for his final rally in Caracas.
Maduro, who was chosen by the late-President Hugo Chávez as his successor, has also been leading mass rallies. But he’s also relying on the Chávez faithful and his socialist party’s majority presence throughout the country to carry him to victory.
With a campaign that only lasts 10 days, the candidates are betting on different strategies, said Carlos Romero, a political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela.
“We’re asking what’s worth more in this express campaign?” he said. “Political machinery or popular fervor in the streets.”
After campaign stops earlier this week in Monagas and Barinas states, Capriles recently stumped on Margarita Island.
Led by swarms of motorcycles and accompanied by a former Miss World, a motorcade carried Capriles through a crowd of thousands that clogged the streets of Porlamar, the island’s principal port city.
“We love you flaco!” women shouted to the governor.
America Rodriguez, a 59-year-old retiree, waited for five hours to see Capriles.
“He’s a force,” she said, braving the heat. “There’s so much violence and crime, my grandchildren can’t go to the park anymore because they’re afraid of getting killed or kidnapped.”
Venezuela’s escalating violence has become a major voter concern, and a keynote of the Capriles campaign.
On Friday, as Maduro marked Chávez’s death one month ago, he accused the opposition of trying to derail the election.
He said authorities had arrested more than one person trying to damage the electrical grid.
“We have imprisoned some saboteurs, including one who we caught red-handed,” he said during a meeting with defense chiefs. The government provided few other details.
In the northern state of Yaracuy earlier this week, he also accused the opposition of trying to convince the National Electoral Council (CNE) to postpone Election Day.
“They want to avoid the inevitable,” he said. “Nicolás Maduro will be president of the people of Venezuela.”
Maduro, as in most of his public appearances, paid homage to the late Venezuelan leader, who led this nation for 14 years.
“Chávez lives in the smiles of our children, Chávez lives in myriad ways,” he said. “Chávez lives above all in the loyalty of the people of Venezuela.”